October 23, 2016
KWALE, KENYA — Coconut palms and verdant hills greet visitors to Kenya’s south coast.
Farmers brave the cool morning dew to collect oranges and passionfruit from their farms in Miwani village. Here, a narrow footpath leads to the homestead of Milcah Maingi, a 52-year-old farmer. Lush fruit trees and banana plants surround the house, but she says this is nothing compared to what she had in her former home, where she’d lived since she was born.
Nine years ago, hundreds of people were forced to move from Maumba village to make space for mineral sands mining.
The mining company gave her about 3.9 million shillings ($38,532), Maingi says, writing the exact figure with a stick on the ground. This was compensation for her 18 hectares (45 acres) of land, trees, her parents’ grave sites, two houses and other structures within the homestead where she lived with her two sons and her brother. She says the company paid a measly amount for her coconut trees.
“We were never consulted on how much we would earn per tree,” Maingi says. “I used to harvest coconuts worth 8,000 shillings [$79] every month. When I was moved, I had to grow new coconut trees.”
The final indignity came when she saw the land where she was moved. It was uninhabitable, she says, and so swampy that it was unsuitable for farming. She had to buy land elsewhere.
Nearly a decade after the village eviction, many of its former residents, including Maingi , say they got a raw deal from Base Titanium, the mining company.
To date, there are more than 100 land disputes involving people who were resettled, says, Gideon Masyuki, farmers’ representative in the Mining Project Liaison Committee, which was formed to address farmers’ complaints regarding their resettlement.
Petitioners in these cases include people who were given title deeds to nonexistent land, multiple people who were given title deeds to the same piece of land, and those who were given land in swampy areas where they could neither farm nor live. Ninety-one of those cases were filed by people who say they were never compensated for their land, Masyuki says.
None of the cases have been settled, he says.
Officials at Base Titanium say that every person who was displaced was adequately compensated, and that the company has even initiated development projects for their benefit, including hospitals and schools.
The land where the villagers were resettled was owned by the government.
Lilian Kaivilu, GPJ Kenya
The Kwale mineral sands mining project, the first such project in Kenya since the early 1900s, began in 2004, when Tiomin Resources Inc., a Canadian company, got a lease from the Kenyan government to exploit titanium deposits in Kwale County. The project was later acquired by Base Titanium, the Kenyan subsidiary of Australia- and U.K.-based company Base Resources.
Base Titanium has since begun its mining operations in the area and produces three derivatives of titanium ore: ilmenite, rutile and zircon.
There are at least 13 mining companies operating in Kenya, according to the Kenya Mining and Investment Handbook 2015. Five of those, including Base Titanium, are foreign-owned. Mining activity in the country includes drilling for gold, magnesite and iron ore, in addition to titanium and other products.
A District Resettlement and Compensation Committee, made up of government representatives, farmers’ representatives and religious leaders, among others, was formed to oversee the relocation of people who lived where the mining was to take place.
The displaced people, from about 480 households, were given land in Mrima Bwiti, a settlement about two hours’ drive from their former village.
The compensation process sparked fights within many families, Maingi says. Compensation payments were given to only one member of each household, even if the land was jointly owned.
Lilian Kaivilu, GPJ Kenya
Farmers and their families weren’t consulted in the relocation process, says Samson Kieti, another farmer who was displaced from Maumba village. His family was given a new piece of land, he says, but they weren’t happy there.
“In the new place, I was like a lone ranger in the wilderness,” Kieti says. “My family and I had to adapt to new neighbors and a new climate. It was not easy.”
The family decided to buy land elsewhere, he says.
Joe Schwarz, Base Titanium’s general manager of external affairs and development, says the company brokered an agreement with local landowners through the District Resettlement and Compensation Committee.
Every household affected by the resettlement was given a piece of land and money as compensation for assets, Schwarz says.
“All these pieces of land and their compensations were valued by the government. Each household was given land free of charge,” he says. “Even squatters got the same treatment.”
Schwarz denies claims that some people were forced to relocate and were not compensated.
“The resettlement compensation package was good,” he says.
People should focus on the company’s development projects instead of dwelling on resettlement problems, he says.
“We have built schools for the locals, constructed and equipped health centers, planted 65,000 trees and offered scholarships worth 15 million shillings [$148,000] to the locals,” he says.
Masyuki, the farmers’ representative, says that even though the company has brought development in form of water dams, hospitals and schools, what local people want is fair compensation for their land.
“Our plea to the government and the mining company is to give us back our land or show us a suitable piece of land for farming,” Masyuki says.
Margaret Mwololo, a widowed mother of five, became homeless because her mother-in-law received compensation for the family’s land, but she never shared it.
“I saw people come to my home and start demolishing my house,” Mwololo says. “When I asked why they were demolishing my house, they told me that my time in the area was up and that my compensation had already been handed to my mother-in-law.”
For the next three days, she says, she and her children slept outside. Now, she lives with friends.
Still, she says, she’s grateful to Base Titanium because the company hired one of her sons three years ago to help the family after its displacement in 2007. The family built temporary shelters with his earnings, Mwololo says.
“But still, I have no land of my own,” she says. “My friends are hosting us on this land and have allowed us to build on it.”
Lilian Kaivilu, GPJ, translated some interviews from Kiswahili.